Sunday, June 20, 2010

CALIFORNIA WINE FESTIVAL: SANTA BARBARA


California Wine Festival

What is billed as California's most popular wine festival occurs July 15 - 17, 2010 by the beautiful Pacific Ocean in Santa Barbara.  The California Wine Festival will show off hundreds of the state's best reds, whites, pinks and sparklers along with food served by local chefs, artisan breads and cheeses, grilled meats, fruit and more.  Here's how the festivities line up:

Thursday, July 15
A tapas and wine tasting event from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at De La Guerra Adobe Courtyard.  $49 advance, $55 gate

Friday, July 16th
Sunset rare and reserved wine tasting from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  $99 advance, $125 gate

Saturday, July 17th
The main event - the beachside wine festival from 1:00 - 4:00 p.m.  There's an 11:30 a.m. entrance for VIP/press/trade.  Every wine region in the state will be represented by hundreds of wineries pouring their wines.  There will be plenty to nosh on and live entertainment will keep the day interesting.  $65 advance, $75 gate

A VIP All Event Gold Pass offers the whole three-day experience at a discount, only $179.

The festival has been well-received by those who have attended in the past, and the event schedule certainly promises to be a lot of fun for those able to attend the full three-day schedule.  Even if you can only make it to Santa Barbara for the Saturday tasting, it sounds like a lot of fun for wine lovers.

Last Year
Last year's California Wine Festival was a great time for all concerned.  Exhibitors, vendors and guests all seemed to revel in the various pleasures laid out before them, not least among them being the fantastic Santa Barbara day.  When people all over the country think of what their "perfect summer day" would be, this day could be used as the example - clear blue sky, sunshine galore and just on the warm side of mild.  It could not have been better.

We took Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner from Burbank to Santa Barbara, avoiding all the hassle of the drive, the freeways, the parking and the necessity of a designated non-imbiber.  Neither of us had felt so free and unencumbered in ages.  We heartily recommend it.

The train station in Santa Barbara is right in the middle of the downtown area, and just a short trolley ride down Cabrillo Boulevard from the site of the festival.  The peaked white tents beckoned from afar and we entered without delay with our VIP tickets.  Later we could see that many people were in quite a line outside waiting to get in.

Denise threw herself into the condiments and gourmet items that were in wild abundance.  She busied herself with little tastes of fruit, cheese, olive oil and Balsamic vinegar while I strolled the grounds sampling the wonderful wines that were available about every ten feet or so.

Here are some of my favorites from last year's event:

Rosa D'Oro Vineyards, Lake County
Their dry Muscat Canelli was very aromatic and crisp.  The Rosato had a wild nose and a fabulous palate.  It was wine, Italian style, at 70% Sangiovese and 30% Barbera.

Michael-David, Lodi
Petite Petit was 100% Petite Sirah with a big, luscious nose full of dark fruit and oaky notes.

Ortman Family Vineyards, Paso Robles
The Sangiovese had a very fruity nose and rested very gently on the palate.

Oreana Winery, Santa Barbara
Oreana's Verdelho is the Portuguese version of the Spanish verdejo.  The nose was obscured by the barbecue stand nearby, but it was nice and easy to drink with a citrus profile.  Crisp.

Cambria, Paso Robles
The Katherine's vineyard Chardonnay was understated and crisp, the lighter of the two Chards they were pouring.

Municipal Winemakers, Santa Barbara County -
It was really nice seeing Dave Potter. Always nice to taste his wine, too!
His dry riesling is nearly as sweet as his sweet Riesling.  Both are noteworthy.  His bright red Grenache/Cinsaut/Syrah blend is a wine I like better every time I taste it, if that's possible.

Lone Madrone, Paso Robles
Here's one you don't see everyday: Picpoul Blanc.  It was full of minerals and a bit sour, like lemon.  Unusual but nice.  I'm a big fan of their La Mezcla, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Albarino.  Quite acidic and very unusual, the minerals really stand out and help shape a wonderful crispness.

Laetitia Vineyards, Arroyo Grande
Wow.  I had not ever tried their Tempranillo.  It was possibly the biggest taste from a Tempranillo in my experience.

Bridlewood Estate Winery, Santa Ynez
A really great syrah.

Santa Barbara wine retailer Winehound had a boothwhere they were pouring Qupe Dark Ride Syrah.  It was dark and earthy.

That was a lot of tasting for one afternoon!  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait until the 2010 event.

After getting back near the Amtrak station, we found ourselves with quite a bit of time to kill before our train was due.  We made the mistake of stopping into Eladio's for a quick bite and a little resting.  It was some of the worst food we have ever been served.  The skewered shrimp were cold, as were the nachos.  Nachos!  They couldn't get nachos right!  The cheese was not completely melted and the sliced chiles that were sprinkled about on top tasted just awful.  What a disappointing meal.

Fortunately, dinner on Stearn's Wharf was at the other end of the spectrum.  The Harbor is as upscale as the Wharf gets, and they do a good job of maintaining their fine dining image despite the beachy surroundings.  I had the ahi tuna steak on a bed of wasabi mashed potatoes with the Sanford Chardonnay.  The wine paired with the dish perfectly.